Composers / Thomas Tellefsen

Thomas Dyke Acland Tellefsen (1823–1874) enjoyed international renown as a composer, piano virtuoso and teacher. He left behind forty-four opuses of original compositions. In his music, his links with Chopin are manifest in various ways, be it in the choice of styles and genres or in the fact that most of his works were written for solo piano. Tellefsen also wrote two piano concertos – the first known works in that genre by a Norwegian composer. Tellefsen’s oeuvre includes a relatively large number – given the period in time and the situation in Norway – of chamber works, with as many as six sonatas for various forces. Already in the 1840s, Tellefsen was employing elements of folk music in his compositions, making him one of the precursors in Norway of the serious introduction of Norwegian folk motifs in art music.

Tellefsen was born in Trondheim, but he left Norway in 1842 to study music in Paris. There, he made contact with Fryderyk Chopin, becoming his pupil and friend. On Chopin’s death, in 1849, he took over a number of his pupils and earned much esteem as a teacher. During the 1850s and 60s, he also gained a reputation as one of the greatest piano virtuosos of his day, and he completed many successful concert tours of France, the UK and Scandinavia.

Growing up in Trondheim, Tellefsen acquired what for those times was a unique knowledge of Baroque music and the Bach tradition. That knowledge served him well in Paris during the mid nineteenth century, and he became one of the leading musicians in the current of renewed interest in early music.

Thomas Tellefsen’s standing in international musical life is reflected in the numerous distinctions that he received during his lifetime; in 1867, for example, he became a knight of the Order of St Olav.

Tellefsen achieved considerable renown, but after his death, in 1874, his music was soon forgotten. Until recently, his compositions were known to just a handful of specialists.

Although Tellefsen could hardly be numbered among the great innovators of nineteenth-century music, many observers feel that he deserves a much more significant place in music history than he has occupied to date. That situation is slowly beginning to change, thanks to numerous recordings of his music and publications about him.

Tellefsen took care to ensure that his compositions be preserved for future generations, and he sent editions of his works to Norway. The majority of his oeuvre is held at the University Library in Trondheim, the Ringve Museum of Music in Trondheim and the National Library in Oslo.